Mother and children living under tarpaulin

January 31, 2023
Shelly-Ann Williams is desperate to find a home for herself and her seven children.
Shelly-Ann Williams is desperate to find a home for herself and her seven children.
All the family’s belongings are strewn about the shelter in hefty piles like this.
All the family’s belongings are strewn about the shelter in hefty piles like this.
Williams parts the tarpaulin covered ‘entrance’ to her dwelling.
Williams parts the tarpaulin covered ‘entrance’ to her dwelling.

Life has always been difficult for Shelly-Ann Williams, a St Mary mother of seven, bu things got even more challenging after fire destroyed her two-bedroom house last February.

Providing food for her children is a major issue, but in addition, Williams, 38, and six of her offspring are currently being housed under a tarpaulin in a rundown structure in the Mahoe Road, Highgate, area.

"Mi deh here on this place that belong to mi sister uncle. I was here for two nights without the tarpaulin and di place did open. Then the church come one Saturday evening and come do this. Mi put a mattress inna di little bathroom section and was there. The first night mi in there rain fall and we get wet up," she said. "How it stay now, we nuh really get wet because of where the mattress dem deh, but it cold bad. Right now the baby stuffy now. Mi did feel really down when mi out here, enuh, but mi feel little better after the church people dem come put up the tarpaulin,even though it nuh really safe."

Williams' children are age 23, 18, 17, 13, nine, seven, and three months old. The youngest was not even born when the two-bedroom house went up in flames shortly after she began preparing dinner.

"Mi gas did finish and mi put di coal stove outside and put on some gungo peas and leave go up a di shop say mi a go get some rice. By the time mi go a the shop and come back, mi come see di house on fire, and mi couldn't even enter in there," she said. It is believed that one of the children accidentally caused the blaze. Williams said she stayed with a relative for a while but was eventually asked to leave. With nowhere to go, she took her children, including her infant, and moved into a section of an abandoned building early last month. As she spoke, the little one slept on one of the three mattresses that is placed on four blocks. The smell of eucalyptus oil permeated the air. Williams said it helps the baby to breathw. Except for the other mattresses, the only furniture is a table made from building blocks. Two of Williams' children have special needs and are currently not enrolled in school.

"The bigger one used to go to a regular school until grade two, but because of the situation, the principal had to stop him. He is 13 now. Mi really a try get them in a school because I know they have a chance of becoming someone great in life," she said. Williams said only one of her babyfathers actively plays a part in their lives. She stated that she had worked in a supermarket years ago but had to quit her job to take care of the children.

"Two of the big ones are for the same father, and once in a blue moon, him will drop by or him will say mi fi pick up something from one a him relative. Is six babyfathers I have and is just the smallest baby's father will take care of him," she said. Mosquitoes swarm the tent at nights, and there is no electricity. Williams is hoping that she will receive much-needed assistance to build a house.

"Mi would just want draw on one room for di children and a kitchen, and mi would all right. Now and again mi will get little food from people, and on days when there is no help, we just have to do without," she said.

A neighbour, Sharon Hall, has been a good Samaritan for the family. Not only has she opened her doors to two of the children, but she sometimes provides groceries. She, too, is appealing to the public for assistance for Williams.

"Sometimes dem have to go to dem bed hungry, and I will help out when I can. It is really hard to see her living in a situation like this with the children. She is a very good mother, and sometimes she walk with them to go school and she nah leave dem. She really need a house and she have nothing. There is no electricity here, and the place cold bad even when it is day," Hall said.

Persons wishing to assist Shelly-Ann Williams may contact Sharon Hall at 876 486-5096. Donations may also be made via Williams' Jamaica National savings account 2094539494, Highgate Branch.

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